Judge Patrick Bromley is a study in infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
Our reviews of The Best Of Star Trek: The Next Generation (published May 12th, 2009), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One (Blu-ray) (published July 24th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published December 17th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Three (Blu-ray) (published May 15th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Five (Blu-ray) (published November 19th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Six (Blu-ray) (published June 25th, 2014), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Chain of Command (Blu-ray) (published July 15th, 2014), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Redemption (Blu-ray) (published July 30th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level (Blu-ray) (published January 29th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Unification (Blu-ray) (published November 19th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One (published April 24th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Two (published May 23rd, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Three (published July 18th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Four (published September 16th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Five (published February 4th, 2003), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Six (published December 16th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Seven (published February 10th, 2003), and Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Jean-Luc Picard Collection (published August 23rd, 2004) are also available.
Benjamin Maxwell: You're a fool, Picard. History will look at you and
say "This man was a fool."
I didn't want it to be true.
I have been reading the rave reviews of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray as its first three seasons were released—about how Paramount's HD remastering makes the show look better than we ever imagined, and how the new bonus material makes a great show even better. But because the Star Trek sets are so expensive, because we have already invested money in the DVDs, it just seemed easier to hold on to the old discs.
Nope. Having finally seen Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Four on Blu-ray, there is no other way to watch the show. It's every bit as good as I feared it would be.
Facts of the Case
Here are the episodes that make up Season Four.
• "Best of Both Worlds Part II"—Season Three's cliffhanger finale picks up where it left off, with Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, X-Men) assimilated by The Borg and taking on the new form of Locutus. As the crew fights to get their captain back, it's up to Data (Brent Spiner, Independence Day) to shut down the Borg ship.
• "Family"—Picard pays a visit to his family in France while Lt. Worf's (Michael Dorn, Shade) adoptive parents come to see him aboard the Enterprise.
• "Brothers"—Data begins acting erratically when he is summoned by his creator and comes face to face with his brother, Lore.
• "Suddenly Human"—The crew encounters a human boy (Chad Allen, TerrorVision) who was once a member of the Federation bt has been raised by aliens. Picard must help him choose which "family" with which he will remain.
• "Remember Me"—A malfunction causes Enterprise crew members to disappear, and only Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden, Dirty) remembers that they ever existed.
• "Legacy"—The Enterprise crew answers a distress call and must settle a dispute between two warring factions. On one side of the conflict is Ishara Yar (Beth Toussaint, Red Eye), the sister of deceased crew member Tasha Yar.
• "Reunion"—Worf aids Picard in settling a dispute among the Klingons and is paid a visit by a former lover.
• "Future Imperfect"—While investigating some cave readings on his birthday, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes, North and South) is knocked unconscious and awakens 16 years in the future, where he is now the captain of the Enterprise.
• "Final Mission"—During his last mission with the Enterprise, ensign Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton, Stand by Me) is stranded off world with Captain Picard. This is Wheaton's final episode as a series regular.
• "The Loss"—The Enterprise is trapped in space by phantom forces that cause Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis, Death Wish 3) to lose her empathic powers.
• "Data's Day"—The crew prepares for the arrival of Vulcan ambassador T'Pel as Data readies himself for the wedding of Chief Miles O'Brien (Colm Meany, Intermission) and Keiko Ishikawa (Rosalind Chao, I Am Sam) by getting dancing lessons from Dr. Crusher.
• "The Wounded"—The Enterprise joins forces with the Cardassians to stop a Starfleet captain (Bob Gunton, The Shawshank Redemption) who has gone rogue and attacked an unarmed Cardassian outpost.
• "Devil's Due"—An alien entity claiming to be a mythological deity demands ownership over over a planet and the Enterprise, but Picard suspects there's more going on under the surface.
• "Clues"—A mysterious force renders the crew unconscious for what seems like 30 seconds, but further investigation reveals it may have been longer.
• "First Contact"—Riker goes missing while on the surface of Malcor III, possibly endangering a new alliance between the Federation and an alien civilization with whom they are establishing first contact.
• "Galaxy's Child"—The Enterprise must deliver and care for a large alien baby after killing its mother; Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton, The Supernaturals) is embarrassed with visiting engineer Dr. Leah Brahms (Susan Gibney, The Great White Hype) discovers his computer simulation of her.
• "Night Terrors"—The crew of the Enterprise can't sleep when the ship is trapped in a rift, leading to madness and violence on board.
• "Identity Crisis"—After Geordi and a former crew mate go searching for some missing men on the surface of Tarchannen III, they begin to go a strange and drastic transformation.
• "The Nth Degree"—Geordi and Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz, The A-Team) are hit by an alien probe, after which Barclay begins to demonstrate a substantially increased IQ.
• "QPid"—Picard is visited once again by Q (John de Lancie, Bad Influence), who tests the Captain's love for a former girlfriend (Jennifer Hetrick, Squeeze Play!) in a simulation of The Adventures of Robin Hood.
• "The Drumhead"—Romulan spies are suspected aboard the Enterprise, leading to an investigation and eventual witching from Admiral Norah Satie (Jean Simmons, Guys and Dolls).
• "Half a Life"—Deanna's mother Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, Westworld) pays another visit, this time finding love with Dr. Timicin (David Ogden Stiers, Better Off Dead), an alien who wishes to honor his society's custom of committing suicide at age 60.
• "The Host"—Dr. Crusher falls in love with Odan, a trill who begins using Riker as his symbiotic host in order to survive.
• "The Mind's Eye"—The Romulans capture and brainwash Geordi into becoming an assassin for their cause.
• "In Theory"—As the Enterprise discovers a nebula that is distorting space, Data finally enters into a romantic relationship with another crew member, Jenna D'Sora (Michele Scarabelli, Shattered Glass). This was the first episode to be directed by Patrick Stewart.
• "Redemption: Part I"—In the season finale cliffhanger, Lt. Worf decides to leave his post on the Enterprise to fight in the Klingon civil war.
When Star Trek Into Darkness was released earlier this summer, there was, to be expected, a great deal of Star Trek talk on the internet. The more I read, the more I began to notice a strange phenomenon: Star Trek: The Next Generation was suddenly being reassessed. People were no longer positive about it. It was called "square" and "dull." Commenters lambasted it for being boring because it took place in a utopia; now that Roddenberry's vision of a perfect society had basically been achieved, these people would complain, there were no interesting stories to tell. Every episode would take things right back to the status quo established at the beginning.
I was surprised. I'm still fairly new to Star Trek fandom (I've talked at length about falling in love with the franchise a few years ago and diving in all the way), but the criticisms flew in the face of what I thought to be true. I always thought the series was held up by fans as one of the best (if not THE best) series in the franchise. And while it's a different show from Star Trek: The Original Series, I can see why: it has a deeper bench of good characters and focuses more on thoughtful sci-fi concepts than on the two-fisted action of the original. Both have their charms, just as both shows have their place—why we have to choose one over the other, I cannot understand. I am happy to have them both. TOS is what got me into Star Trek, but TNG did nothing to dissuade me from my love of the long-running franchise. Like the series that started it all, The Next Generation is great television. And why can't there be a show about what happens once utopia is achieved? It's not "square," it merely has different concerns. TOS is the Wild West; TNG is about what happens after the West is tamed. Is that not a story worth telling?
The conventional wisdom is that TNG didn't really begin firing on all cylinders until around Season Three (while I like the first two seasons of the show—because Star Trek—I get what people are saying). That means that Season Four finds the show climbing its creative peak, from the second part of its now-legendary "Best of Both Worlds" (the episode[s] that introduced The Borg, arguably TNG's greatest villain) to the introduction of Data's creator Noonien Song (in "Brothers") to memorable episodes focused on tertiary characters ("Nth Degree"). The leap that from seasons One and Two to seasons Three and Four mark the difference between a Star Trek spin-off that's acceptable and not embarrassing to a show that has found its own brand of Greatness and can stand on entirely on its own.
One of the best things about Season Four is that TNG had been on the air long enough to have established its own mythology. The fourth season sees the return of some past characters—Lwaxana Troi, Vash, Data's brother Lore and even Dr. Leah Brahms, previously seen only in holographic form—as well as characters with ties to established mythology, such as Tasha Yar's sister, Ishara. While the show wouldn't take on the kind of serialized storytelling that would define Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there is a kind of continuity that began in Season Three and continues here. The Next Generation universe is finally feeling lived-in. Season Four also gets to explore several of the characters more deeply than ever before. We get to see Picard with his family and understand more about his upbringing and home life. We get to see Date come face to face with his creator; later, he even gets a girlfriend. Worf's adoptive human parents make an appearance. By season's end, he has to choose between his loyalties to the Federation and his Klingon heritage. It's some of the best writing that Worf—who can be a rather one-note character at times—has ever had to work with.
Not every episode is perfect, but even the less-than-great installments (a few of the shows centering on Dr. Crusher among them) aren't terrible. They feel more like placeholders between the really good episodes, especially on home video when it's more customary to binge watch. Don't like an episode? That's ok. You don't have to wait a week to get the taste out of your mouth. You can just fire up another one, and it's likely that the next one is going to be terrific. While not perfect from episode to episode, the quality control on Season Four is very high, making for a season that's full of great storytelling, well-written characters and memorable adventures.
All 26 episodes of Season Four are collected together on this Blu-ray set, and it looks amazing. This is not a surprise to anyone who has been collecting the HD releases thus far, but, as this is my first encounter with these new transfers, it should be said that the experience was transformative—I won't be able to go back to watching the standard def versions after this. The full frame presentation (in full 1080p) is vividly colorful like never before; gone is the drabness of most previous broadcast presentations (or even the streaming options on Netflix), replaced by gorgeous detail and sharpness. I never realized just how bad I was used to seeing the show presented until putting on the Blu-ray. The 7.1 lossless audio track is also great, albeit in a more subtle way (the upgrade in video is immediately apparent, while the audio improvement requires some attention be paid). The dialogue is always clear and given prominence, but the sound effects and score fill it out in a way that will make viewers reconsider the richness of the show's sound design. The separation of effects is immersive enough that it feels like you're actually on the bridge of the Enterprise and, as a Star Trek fan, can you really ask for anything more? For purists, Paramount has also included the old two-channel stereo mixes, too. After hearing the lossless 7.1 mix, I don't know why you would want to go backwards.
And, of course, there are the supplemental features. Two new commentaries have been recorded for the set: Rob Bowman, Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda talk through "Brothers" (no Brent Spiner, unfortunately) and Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga and both Okudas come together for a commentary on Reunion. The original "mission log" featurettes from the DVD releases have been ported over, too, each focusing on a different aspect of a specific episode or on the show in general. Archival episode promos are playable for each show.
The real gems of the set are found on the sixth disc: a collection of art department crew, makeup designers, production designers and technical personnel are gathered together for an hour-long "In Conversation" piece, covering how much of the look of TNG (and even DS9) was achieved. It's a great talk. A two-part "Relativity" featurette (with a combined running time of about an hour) features a number of cast and crew recalling their work on the show and discussing its legacy. It, too, is wonderful. All three documentaries are presented in HD. Rounding out the special features (and also presented in HD) is an amusing gag reel and a handful of deleted scenes.
The excellence of Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Four on Blu-ray is bittersweet. On the one hand, I'm thrilled to have a great season of a great series available in the best possible presentation. On the other hand, it has made me a convert, and that's an expensive proposition. The Star Trek DVDs were pricey to begin with, so the prospect of upgrading to Blu-ray (which is also expensive) doesn't thrill me. At least Paramount has made sure that if we're going to be asked to pay again, it's worth it. This is the only way to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation from now on.
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